5 Minnesota Vikings Who Mean the Most to the Team’s Future
5 Minnesota Vikings Who Mean the Most to the Team's Future
After making the postseason in 2012, the Minnesota Vikings failed to repeat that in 2013. While the team overachieved in 2012, their deficiencies showed themselves in 2013. With no consistent passing game and an aging defense struggling, the Vikings finished 5-10-1. Not all was lost for the Vikings as some relatively unknown players turned in some good performances in 2013.
The Vikings still are one of the few teams that rely more on the running game than the passing game. This is evident because of the presence of Adrian Peterson, but more balance in 2014 will not only improve the win totals in Minnesota but Peterson's statistics as well. The Vikings had zero starting caliber quarterbacks taking snaps last year as draft bust Christian Ponder, former castoff Josh Freeman and journeyman Matt Cassel failed to give the Vikings a real threat in the passing game. Defensively, players like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, stalwarts for a long time, are starting to go on the decline and the defense also has no other real playmakers.
Those who appear on my list of the top five players who will most affect the future of the Vikings will not be among the big-name players. Names like Peterson or Williams did not qualify for this list; instead, these are players who had solid seasons in 2013 and with an added dose of luck can turn the team's fortunes around in 2014.
Plenty of players could have made this list. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had an excellent rookie season, but he proved he was already a big-name player so he did not qualify for the list. Defensively, Chad Greenway has been one of the more underrated players in the league, but his resume is solid, thereby eliminating them from this discussion.
The five Vikings on this list are the players who will have the biggest impact on the team's success or failure over the next two or three seasons. A few of these players are plug in players who can become starters in 2014 or are players who had solid seasons and are now looking to be more dependable for the Vikings. These five will determine if the Vikings continue their struggles in 2013 or bounce back to their magical 2012 season.
5. Jeff Baca
When the Vikings were good, the offensive line was able to maul other teams' defensive lines right across the board. While most of the players like Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson are gone, former UCLA Bruins guard Jeff Baca has stepped in and done a good job blocking for Peterson.
If Baca and the offensive line can get back to those days, the Vikings will be able to get back to being contenders in the NFC North.
4. Josh Robinson
The Vikings' secondary -- outside of Harrison Smith -- is filled with a bunch of no-name players. Cornerback Josh Robinson started 10 games last year but finished with zero interceptions.
If the Vikings' defense wants to get back to their elite days, guys like Robinson, Chris Cook and Xavier Rhodes will have to start collecting turnovers. In a division with great quarterbacks in Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers, if the Vikings don't collect turnovers, 2014 will be a repeat of 2013.
3. Audie Cole
One of the very few consistent linebackers on the Vikings roster, Audie Cole came in at midseason and started making big-time plays for the Vikings and their struggling defense.
In five starts last year, Cole made 45 tackles, proving that he is capable of being a good player for the defense. With the Vikings under a new scheme with coach Mike Zimmer, consistent players like Audie Cole will be key in helping the team get back to the playoffs.
2. Toby Gerhart
This is what Vikings fans don't want to hear. In two of the past three seasons, Adrian Peterson has not been able to finish the season. As blasphemous as that sounds, that is the reality for the Vikings this season. Peterson's wear and tear is starting to get the best of him.
Having a big, bruising running back like Toby Gerhart spell Peterson in 2014 will keep him fresh for years to come. With Gerhart spelling Peterson and getting his own tough yards, the Vikings' running game can still continue to cover for their woeful passing game.
1. Jarius Wright
A big play threat on the outside, former Arkansas Razorbacks wide receiver Jarius Wright was able to show some flashes for the Vikings late in the year.
Along with Patterson's breakaway speed and playmaking, the tandem of Wright and Patterson will be the first part in trying to fix a bad passing game and improving the entire Vikings offense.